BY C.S. HOWARD
Leroy Butler grew up in the greater Newtown community and returned to his beloved home- town after graduating from college. He is passionate about what he does and it’s important to him to be able to give back and make a difference. He said he did not “choose” his childhood but he has chosen to be a positive role model; he has chosen to be an example to be imitated - a person someone can aspire to be like.
The journey for Leroy began with his teen mother in Sarasota’s housing project. There was a United Way-funded program called the HIPPY literacy program that changed his life. “That program provided me with an opportunity to get a head start on my education,” he said. Leroy went through the HIPPY program and because of his enthusiasm and how he embraced the program, he has been invited to become a National HIPPY USA board member. He graduated from Booker High School in 2007 and continued his education at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania on a football scholarship, where he earned a degree in Anthropology and Sociology. While at Lafayette, he was active in the A.B.C. - Association of Black Collegians, football, Landis Community outreach, and was a mentor at Easton’s local high schools and recreational center.
Leroy is employed by United Way Suncoast and Booker Middle School as a Parent and Community Outreach Liaison (PCOL), a position that fits him well. As PCOL, the goal is to break the cycle of generational poverty through education via two generational approaches. “My job is to find out the wants and needs of both parents and students at Booker Middle,” he said. “My United Way team (Trish McConnell, Holly Bullard) and I then develop services that we can provide. If we cannot provide the service directly, we outsource and connect the family with the services they need. We also focus strongly on the greater Newtown community with other initiatives we have outside of Booker Middle School such as our VITA free tax program at Robert L. Taylor Community Complex - the Rec - where we filed scores of taxes for free and saved Newtown residents thousands of dollars,” he said.
Since returning t o the community, Leroy has become involved in the Brotherhood of Men Mentoring Group, Women and Men With a Purpose – an organization that helped him during the early days. “Yes, I did play football and excelled at it, however, I did not need football so I rarely talk about it. I do not like to perpetuate the narrative of African American boys investing in their physical. My goal is to let them know they can accomplish a whole lot more. Working with Brotherhood of Men, we have long term goals to start our own early learning center, one very similar if not the replica of the Harlem Children Zone by Geoffry Canada in New York City. This organization and its mentors whom we call “Uncles” are taking our entire group to New York City to visit this facility on August 18th. My main long term goal is to make education a priority in the early stages of our children’s lives ages 0-4 years old.”
Leroy is also the defensive coordinator of the Booker High School Varsity Football team, and when he’s not busy giving back and trying to help others to succeed, he enjoys chess, reading the works of Michael Eric Dyson, Cornell West, William Julius Wilson, and Bell Hooks. He is the son of Jewel Johnson and Reginald Clark.
To what do you at- tribute your success?
First and foremost to my mother, Jewel Johnson. She introduced me to education and literacy and this set the blueprint for my life. I have always excelled academically and I believe that literacy and education are the most liberating tools a person can have. It’s all you need.
What advice do you have for a young person today?
Put yourself in POSITIVE uncomfortable situations; the only time any growth happens for the good is when you are uncomfortable. If you are comfortable, then you are static and lose the ability to move vertically; you only possess the skill to move laterally. Lateral has never been up. BE DIFFERENT. Re-write the expected narrative.